There and back again — day 1 Python in Astronomy workshop

After a huge pause of a year, I finally have the time (more or less) and energy (definitively) to come back to my blog and give it a big boost. I guess this is what happens when one has his/her first child, time flies!  Anyway, I think there is no better occasion to start blogging again (hopefully more continuously) than to use my presence at the “Python in Astronomy” workshop to share with you all the great things that are happening this week here in Leiden.

We are about to start day 2, so before we get into all the busy schedule it may be time to summarised what happened in day 1. After a short introduction from the people at Lorentz Centre and the organisers of the conference, we started with the “flash introductions”. These are 1min talks where everyone said who they were, where they were coming from, what they do and what they expected to get from the workshop. We are around 55 participants, so we were listening to people trying to summarise their experiences for almost 1 hour. You may think that it could be quite tedious or boring, but reality could be more different. It was dynamic, fun, exciting and as someone tweeted later, it was incredible that the buzzer indicating that the time was out did not go off for anyone. The result was incredible. After one hour of workshop we already kind of know everyone and we already had a reason to talk to some of the other participants based on common interests.

The morning then continued with a really good talk from Kelle Cruz from Astrobetter on how to communicate and engage new people on using Python. One of the conclusions of her talk was in the form of a question: why should we keep trying to convinced those stubborn while we have a brand new group of people ready to learn something new and modern? I could not agree more with her. And a second very good point was: do stuff or organise groups to do stuff, do not just wait there until someone magically does it for you.

After that, we had lunch and the afternoon was for unconference sessions. These are sessions that are planned within the day based on what we, the participants, need or want to do. You may think that this could be quite a chaos, but the organisers know what they are doing. The feeling of the whole workshop is that it is incredibly well organised. Probably one of the best conferences/workshops in terms of organisation I have ever been. So how it works is that people go to a whiteboard and write things that they would like discussing or help others with. As examples, there were 2 tutorials on GIT (fantastic both, by the way), a discussion about schedulers and observation planners for telescopes, discussion about software to do spectral analysis, Monte-Carlo sampling… and many more. They were all so good that almost everyone I know wished we could have clones to go to all the parallel sessions. Luckily some people managed to share notes or links about things that were mentioned. Another possibility was using the break to try to find some of the people that run the other sessions and ask them about some of the points covered while they were fresh in their minds.

I cannot wait for today’s second session, specially to know what kind of things we will be doing in the afternoon. Besides the already known talks, we will have a few “lightning talks” which are 5 min talks.  Keep your eyes on twitter and the hash-tag #pyastro15 to follow in real time what is going on here.


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